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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  December 2, 2012 10:00am-10:30am PST

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churches and the disabled. lucky severson visits congregations where even the
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most severely disabled are welcomed and put to work. ♪ and kim lawton reports on the st. olaf christmas festival in minnesota and the world-renowned st. olaf choir. ♪ welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. as congress and the president struggle to reach an agreement
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on taxes and federal spending, religious leaders gathered on capitol hill to once again urge lawmakers to protect antipoverty programs. the interfaith group called cuts to those programs immoral. >> we as religious call on our country's leaders to not push the country's most marginalized peoples off the fiscal cliff, palestinians celebrated this week after the united nations general assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognize palestine as a nonmember observer state. many jewish groups denounced the u.n. action, saying it undermines future peace negotiations with israel. some u.s. christian and muslim leaders supported the move. the palestinians were not granted full u.n. membership, but their upgraded status could allow them access to other u.n. and international bodies, including the international criminal court where they could possibly bring charges against
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israel. the united states was one of nine nations that voted against the resolution. in egypt, seven coptic christians and a controversial american pastor have been sentenced to death over an anti-islam film that sparked massive protests in several muslim countries in september. but the sentences can not be carried out since none of the eight lives in egypt. a u.s.-muslim organization urged the court to drop the charges, saying the prophet muhammed taught forgiveness. florida pastor terry jones was among those sentenced for promoting the film. in 2010, jones caused international outrage after he threatened to burn copies of the koran. a neinterfaith center backed and funded by saudi arabia opened in vienna this week. the center is named for saudi king abdullah and is part of an arrangement between austria, saudi arabia and spain, with
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strong support from the vatican. the center's board includes three christians, three muslims, one jew, a buddhist and a hindu. some have opposed the project arguing that saudi arabia practices a radical form of islam. there was backlash after the church of england's failure last week to approve a measure that would have allowed women to serve as bishops. the current archbishop of canterbury rowan williams and his newly named successor, justin welby, both expressed their disappointment. some british politicians have suggested the church should lose its tax-exempt status for violating antidiscrimination laws. church leaders meeting this week called resolving the issue of female bishops a "matter of urgency." meanwhile, at the vatican last weekend, six new cardinals received their red hats, and for the first time in many years the group did not include any
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italians or other europeans. the new cardinals came from colombia, india, lebanon, nigeria, the philippines and the u.s. but the full college of cardinals remains heavily european. charities, including several religious groups, reportedly raised at least $10 million online in one day this week, as part of an effort called giving tuesday. organizers encouraged people to donate or volunteer on that day as an antidote to the consumerism of so-called "black friday" and "cyber monday." according to the center on philanthropy at indiana university, charitable giving in the u.s. overall was up in 2011 by nearly 4%. giving had fallen off because of the recession, but it began coming back in 2010. gifts to religious groups in 2011 remained the largest single category, but religious giving
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d decline a little. at the same time, giving to the arts, culture and the humanities last year was estimated to be have gone up slightly. it's said that the disabled in this country can often have a hard time finding and then feeling welcome in a typical house of worship. but lucky severson reports on congregations that are not only getting over their feelings of awkwardness in the company of the severely disabled, but welcoming them and putting them to work. >> reporter: among traveling evangelists, nick vujicic is a rock star. he's packed them in in churches around the globe. this is his second visit to the northland megachurch in orlando -- a preacher with no arms and no legs who wants no sympathy. >> why does a man without arms and legs have a smile like this?
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it surpasses the understanding of the world, because i should be depressed. i was, until christ came in. >> reporter: he travels with another message -- that churches need to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. >> to me, in my mind everyone has a disability. everyone needs god. but definitely it is said again and again and again, we need to go out and reach out to those people who are in need. >> reporter: it's not surprising that nick vujicic would be invited to northland this is a church withbout 15,000 members that goes out of its way to welcome and accommodate people in need, including the disabled. one program the church offers is a class for physically and mentally disabled children. >> we're going to read the bible story that we just heard. >> reporter: laura lee wright
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has cerebral palsy. she runs the program. >> they could go into regular class, but they might not really get the message of jesus and the message of hope, because our volunteers are trained to accommodate their special need and their conditions. >> can you all show me how you pray? >> reporter: unfortunately, northland's attitude toward the disabled may be the exception rather than the rule. over the years, america's millions of physically, mentally, and emotionally disabled have made great strides in the workplace, but places of worship have lagged behind. jim hukill was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was only 2. he has made it his life's mission to open more churches to the disabled. >> we are still ry much in an infantile state with the faith and disability movement. i think that we have seen over the last decade a significant advancement, but we are nowhere near what has to happen.
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>> reporter: places of worship and the disabled is the subject of a new book called "amazing gifts" by author mark pinsky. he says one stumbling block for people, whatever their faith, is that at first they feel awkward around people with disabilities. >> they say, "i don't know what to say. i don't know what to do. should i tell my kids not to stare?" all these things are okay, and people in the disability community recognize that there's going to be some unease, some initial discomfort. that's okay. that shouldn't discourage you from plunging ahead. >> reporter: he says it's not that churches, synagogues, and mosques deliberately ignore people with disabilities. >> we have a sort of "zen of the normal" in most of america. most of us worship with people who are like us racially, economically, and physically, and so if we don't see people
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with disabilities we just don't think about them. it's not that we actively >> now a special report. music is a secial part in the holiday season. the saint olaf christmas eve festival. the saint olaf choir has earned international accolades. >> reporter: it's been a century of celebration. for the past 100 years, st. olaf
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college, a small lutheran school in minnesota, has put on a christmas concert that has become known and loved around the world. in a variety of ways, nearly a third of st. olaf's 3,000 students participate in the christmas festival, which combines more than 600 voices from five campus choirs, including the elite st. olaf choir. ♪ the repertoire showcases a variety of sacred music. there are classic holiday standards. ♪ songs that hark back to the school's scandinavian heritage. ♪ and some from other cultures as
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well. ♪ the program is designed to reflect the essential religious meaning of christmas. anton armstrong conducts the st. olaf choir. >> it's just not the music, but that we are lifting up a message, a message of hope, a message of faith, a message of understanding, and most of all a message of love. >> reporter: the popularity of the christmas festival has gone global. for decades, it has been broadcast on public radio and public television, and the armed forces radio and tv service as well. this centennial concert was also simulcast in movie theaters across the country. >> it has been a model for spreading this message of faith at a time that people tend to forget why the season even exists. >> reporter: it all began 100 years ago when f. melius christiansen, a lutheran immigrant from norway, established the st. olaf music department and student choir.
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what he found was that church music had fallen to a very lamentable state, that the popular music of the day seemed to be eradicating all the traditional music and that so many of the young immigrant norwegian students who he was teaching at st. olaf were forgetting the heritage of great hymns. so he established the choir in many ways to revitalize choral singing in the church, congregational singing in the church. christiansen insisted on artistic excellence, and the reputation of the st. olaf choir continued to grow. the choir went on tour and performed in some of the top venues in the nation. according to many scholars, christiansen's work had a profound influence on america's a capella choral tradition. >> he really set a model for choral sound. he changed the whole concept of choral and really taking a program of sacred, unaccompanied choral music and doing it at such a level that it would be >> reporter: while the college now has several choirs, the st. olaf choir remains the most elite.
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armstrong is only its fourth conductor. he was hired in 1990 and actually sang in the choir himself as a student in the 1970s. he holds rigorous auditions. >> i don't want just a beautiful voice. because sometimes as good as these kids are, i can get divas. i don't have time for divas and this is not about me. the work we do in all of our groups, especially that choir, has to be about us, and service. >> reporter: on top of their academic school load, choir members practice an hour and a half a day, five days a week. laura kyle is a junior english major and has been in the choir for two years. >> i'm named after my great-grandma, who was in the choir and sang under f. melius christensen, and i was never able to meet her, but being in the choir has made me feel a connection on that level and that has made it extra special for me. >> reporter: the students develop close relationships with one another. >> it's been one of the most powerful experiences of my life to sing in such an amazing
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ensemble, to make music at such an incredibly high level of artistry, but at the same time, to have that camaraderie with my fellow choir members who are really like family. >> reporter: in a unique trait, st. olaf choir members always hold hands with each other during performances. >> it really helps us connect with the people around us, on a personal, as well as a musical level. >> reporter: armstrong believes what takes place in the performances goes beyond the music. >> i'm constantly admonishing them not to just sing correct technique, correct words, i want the message. >> one of the most special things about the st. olaf choir is knowing that when you go out to perform, no matter where you are or what performance it may be, that there are people out there whose lives you can touch, and that also includes the people that you stand next to. ♪ >> reporter: the choir strives to be true to its lutheran heritage, but armstrong says
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it's not about pushing a particular brand of christianity. >> we invite people into a conversation and for people to explore their thoughts, their feelings, without creating walls around them, but to look at, hopefully, a god that is a god of love and god of hope. religion, especially christianity in this country, sometimes has been pulled in such a direction of condemnation we've lost i think the gospel of grace. >> reporter: armstrong says the connection between music and spirituality has been powerful in his own life. >> i'm a regular churchgoer, but i have to honestly say, sometimes my closest experiences to god have been either singing in the st. olaf choir or conducting that choir. >> reporter: he recalls visiting his mother shortly before she died. she was unresponsive, until he started playing and singing hymns. >> her favorite gospel hymn would be "his eye is on the sparrow," and i started to sing.
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and i sing because i'm happy. i sing because i'm free. his eye is on the sparrow. and i know he watches me. she sang with me. and when that was done, she looks up at me and she goes, "baby! when'd you get here?" when science and medicine couldn't bring my mother back to me, these hymns, these songs of faith that she shared with me, were the things that we shared together. ♪ >> reporter: according to armstrong, the choir sings to bring glory to god. and perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in their signature song, beautiful savior, an arrangement done by christiansen. >> that i think has been a song that can epitomize and has been
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a model for us throughout the years, why do we do this? we sing praise to god. glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be thine. that is the focus of our work. >> reporter: when everything falls into place, armstrong says it's a spiritual experience. ♪ >> some people go to prayer and do that, but you know, still small voices and burning bushes don't seem to work with me. you know? but in the minute when that chord locks and we've been struggling with it, and it finally works. it's as if, yeah, god is there. >> reporter: it's an experience he hopes gets transmitted to the audience as well. >> when people, when they leave, they have been transformed. they don't know why, but perhaps at 90 minutes of experiencing the utmost in beautiful music,
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in powerful and profound text, will somehow seep into the bodies of those performing and certainly those who are hearing. >> reporter: i'm kim lawton in northfield, minnesota. ♪ on our calendar, this weekend -- world aids day. several faith groups are holding events to raise awareness of the disease and those suffering from it. also this weekend, the season of advent begins on sunday for western christians and some branches of eastern orthodoxy. it's a time of spiritual preparation for christmas, and for many christians, it is also the beginning of the new church year. and on thursday, december 6th, christians celebrate the feast day of st. nholas, the patron saint of children, who many
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consider the inspiration for santa claus. ♪ on the first day of christmas ♪ finally, as advent season begins, investment advisers at the pennsylvania-based pnc bank have priced what it would cost this year if you bought everything the true love gave his lady during the 12 days of christmas. the cheapest item is the partridge, at 15 bucks. the most expensive are the swans, at $1,000 each. half the items are the same price as last year -- the maids a-milking, ladies dancing, lords a-leaping, pipers piping and drummers drumming. the minimum wage did not go up, so neither did hiring lords and ladies. but calling birds, swans, geese, french hens, gold rings and the pear tree all cost more. counting everything, each time it's mentioned in the song, the total for the set is $107,300, plus shipping and handling.
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> tt's our rogr for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's always much more on our website as well. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at as we leave you, scenes from the golden temple in india, where sikhs celebrated the birthday of their founder guru nanak. ♪
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